Archive for Sidney Bechet

The Bechet-Lyttelton Session

Posted in History, Jazz with tags , on November 17, 2019 by telescoper

Every now and again on this blog I like to mark significant anniversaries, so I’m quite annoyed that I’ve missed one by a few days. It’s perhaps not very well known that the great Sidney Bechet came to England in 1949 and did a concert and a recording session with Humphrey Lyttelton’s band while he was here. That recording session took place just over 70 years ago, on 13th November 1949.

What’s also not very well known is how controversial this session was at the time, because in the immediate post-war years the Musician’s Union had persuaded the UK government to ban American artists from performing over here. Humph was having none of it, thank goodness, and here we have the legacy. Here is the unmistakable Sidney Bechet on soprano sax, playing a traditional blues called I told you once, I told you twice with Humph on trumpet, Wally Fawkes on clarinet and, stealing the show, the superb (and, to my ears, rather modern-sounding) Keith Christie on trombone.

According to Humph’s memoirs, after the concert they played together, Bechet summoned Humph to his dressing room in order to deliver a kind of end-of-term report on the band in which he pointed out little criticisms of their playing. Bechet was a forceful character and often a harsh critic but when he got to Keith Christie he expressed nothing but unqualified admiration. There’s not much higher praise than that in the world of jazz…

Lord, Let Me In The Lifeboat

Posted in Jazz, Politics with tags , , , , , , on September 16, 2019 by telescoper

Yesterday I noticed a now-typical outburst of British mean-spirited xenophobia in that people are cancelling their donations to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution on the grounds that it spends a massive 2% of its budget saving lives abroad rather than in the UK. Or at least claim to be cancelling donations. Judging by the kind of people commenting on Twitter I’d bet than none of them has ever donated anything to anyone in their entire crab-faced existence. The face of `Global Britain’ as represented by the Daily Mail gets more umpleasant by the day.

Anyway, as a regular donor to the RNLI I have this morning increased my contribution and will be wearing my RNLI pin badge in support of the brave men and women who regularly risk their lives to save those in distress at sea.

Incidentally, in case you were wondering, the RNLI also serves Ireland: there are 59 lifeboats based in 45 stations in the Republic as well as Northern Ireland.

Anyway, I don’t want to let all this get anyone down so I’m sharing this piece of music which sprang to mind. Lord Let Me In The Lifeboat was recorded in 1945 for the Blue Note label by a band led by Sidney Bechet and Bunk Johnson. The latter had just come out of retirement courtesy of Sidney Bechet’s brother Leonard, a dentist, who furnished trumpeter Johnson with a new set of false teeth to allow him to resume playing. Not a lot of people know that.

Understandably, Bunk Johnson’s chops were not in great shape on this session but Bechet’s certainly were! When I was a lad I used to spend a bit of time transcribing clarinet solos from old records, and I remember doing this one by Sidney Bechet. The notes in themselves are not hard to play, but few people could generate that heavy vibrato and rich tone!

UPDATE: Oh look! I found it. If you want to play along at home, here you are. It’s in B♭ Major, and comes with a best guess as to the chords:

Lifeboat

Update: Great News

Sidney Bechet’s Blue Horizon

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on July 25, 2018 by telescoper

Having moved some of my CD & record collection to Ireland, I was listening to some music last night including this track that I blogged about many moons ago. Looking at that old post this morning, I noticed that the Youtube link was defunct so decided to update it. More importantly, I realized that I’d made a few mistakes which I thought I should correct, as well as some other edits.

This slow blues features an extended clarinet solo by the great Sidney Bechet. I’ve loved Blue Horizon ever since I was a kid, and think it has a good claim to be the finest instrumental blues ever recorded.  I also heard it more recently at the funeral of one of my Dad’s old jazz friends. Listening to in that context, it struck me that it’s not just one of the greatest blues performances, but must also be one of the greatest laments that has ever been produced in music of any kind. It’s absolutely pure sadness – there’s no bitterness, anger or resentment about it – and it develops through the stately choruses into a sense of great pride and even, ultimately, of triumph.

Many years I blogged about the thrill of high-speed jazz. This performance is at the other end of the scale in terms of tempo, but you can still feel pull of the harmonic progression underlying the tune which in this case is basically the standard 12-bar blues, but with a few substitute chords thrown in.  The last set of four bars in the 12-bar blues ends with the familiar  V-IV-I cadential pattern (often known as the blues cadence) leading back to the root at the end of each chorus. Although Bechet plays quite a lot across the bar lines, the gravitational pull of that sequence of chords is very strong and it tells you very clearly that one chapter of the story has finished and another is about to start.

Bechet builds his solo over this relatively simple structure in  six choruses in a slow and stately fashion, but makes telling use of searing  blue notes of heart-rending emotional power as the intensity builds. If you don’t know what a blue note is then listen, from about 2.12 onwards, to a chorus that always makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.

I should also mention that the fine piano accompaniment on this all-time classic piece (recorded in December 1944) is provided by Art Hodes and the mournful response from the trombone is supplied by Vic Dickenson. Bechet’s raw power and very broad vibrato probably won’t suit scholars of the classical clarinet, but I think this is absolutely wonderful. If I ever had to compile a list of my all-time favourite records, this would definitely be on it.

I told you once, I told you twice..

Posted in Jazz with tags , on September 26, 2014 by telescoper

I thought I’d wind things down for the weekend by posting a little bit of British jazz history. It’s perhaps not very well known that the great Sidney Bechet came to England in 1949 and did a concert and a recording session with Humphrey Lyttelton’s band while he was here. What’s also not very well known is how controversial this was, as in the immediate post-war years the Musician’s Union had persuaded the UK government to ban American artists from performing over here. Humph was having none of it, thank goodness, and here we have the legacy. Here is the unmistakeable Sidney Bechet on soprano sax, playing a traditional blues called I told you once, I told you twice with Humph on trumpet, Wally Fawkes on clarinet and, stealing the show, the absolutely superb Keith Christie on trombone. The only problem is that the youtube version cuts out a bit early…

After the concert they played together, Bechet summoned Humph in order to deliver a kind of end-of-term report on the band in which he pointed out little criticisms of their playing and so on. Bechet was a forceful character and often a harsh critic but when he got to Keith Christie he expressed nothing but unqualified admiration. There’s not much higher praise than that in the world of jazz.

 

Another Indian Summer

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , on September 25, 2013 by telescoper

I posted this a couple of years ago in response to a discussion concerning the origin of the phrase Indian Summer (which, contrary to popular belief, has nothing to do with India). Looking back over my five years of blog entries for this time of year it’s quite surprising how often I’ve mentioned a late September heatwave. Now we’re having another one. In Welsh, such a period of warm weather at the end of September is known as Haf Bach Mihangel or “Michael’s Little Summer”, as it occurs around Michaelmas Day ( 29th of September).

Anyway, I’m not sure our little summer will last until Sunday 29th September so I’ll take the opprtunity to have a cup of tea outside in the sunshine and post this lovely old recording by the late great Sidney Bechet. So since we’re currently experiencing an Indian Summer, why not bask in its glow?

“You gotta be in the Sun to feel the Sun” – Sidney Bechet.

Summer Time

Posted in Jazz with tags , on July 22, 2012 by telescoper

Well, summer seems to have made it to Cardiff – and elsewhere in the UK judging by the news – so what better excuse to post this solo version of George Gershwin’s classic Summertime by the great Sidney Bechet. This isn’t the classic Blue Note recording of 1939 I have posted already but a live version which I think is even better. Enjoy that unmistakeably gorgeous tone on the soprano saxophone…

Indian Summer

Posted in Jazz with tags , on October 1, 2011 by telescoper

A chance comment on Twitter  concerning the origin of the phrase Indian Summer (which, contrary to popular belief, has nothing to do with India) reminded me of this lovely old recording by the late great Sidney Bechet. So since we’re currently experiencing an Indian Summer, why not bask in its glow?

“You gotta be in the Sun to feel the Sun” – Sidney Bechet.

For Sidney Bechet

Posted in Jazz, Poetry with tags , , , , on June 26, 2011 by telescoper

Just stumbled across this excellent documentary about the great Sidney Bechet and couldn’t resist posting it alongside the poem by Philip Larkin that follows it, which is called For Sidney Bechet. Watching great jazz musicians play, including the rare clips of Bechet shown in the video, the thought always comes into my mind that if you took the instrument away from them, it would just carry on playing by itself…

That note you hold, narrowing and rising, shakes
Like New Orleans reflected on the water,
And in all ears appropriate falsehood wakes,

Building for some a legendary Quarter
Of balconies, flower-baskets and quadrilles,
Everyone making love and going shares

Oh, play that thing! Mute glorious Storyvilles
Others may license, grouping around their chairs
Sporting-house girls like circus tigers (priced

Far above rubies) to pretend their fads,
While scholars manqués nod around unnoticed
Wrapped up in personnels like old plaids.

On me your voice falls as they say love should,
Like an enormous yes. My Crescent City
Is where your speech alone is understood,

And greeted as the natural noise of good,
Scattering long-haired grief and scored pity.

Summertime

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on June 17, 2010 by telescoper

It’s a bit early to be officially Summertime, but the exams are over, the days are long and sunny, the World Cup’s on and … well who really needs an excuse to listen to Sidney Bechet’s all-time classic 1939 BlueNote version of George Gershwin’s great song?

Petite Fleur

Posted in Biographical, Jazz with tags , on April 9, 2010 by telescoper

So the short Easter break draws to a close. I haven’t had much time off at all as I’ve been trying to catch up with some papers and other stuff. I was in the department over the weekend and on Monday and have only really had yesterday and today completely off. We’re back teaching on Monday.

However, things haven’t turned out too badly as we’ve got very nice weather right now and it’s set fair for the weekend. I’ve spent most of today in the garden and got quite a lot of preparation done, although my hands are now covered in scratches. It’s still quite warm approaching 7pm so I’ve decided to sit outside and have myself a cocktail before dinner.

I have a complete set of cocktail-making gear: measures, stirrers, shakers, and ice-crusher as well as the various tools needed for making the trimmings, such as a canulating knife. I also have a reasonably complete range of glasses appropriate for various drinks. My taste in cocktails is, however, fairly limited. Not being partial to Gin eliminates quite a few and I’d rather drink a good Malt on its own than have cocktails with cheaper whisky in them. However, I do have several books of cocktail recipes and, now and again, I pick recipes to try out.

My favourite pre-dinner cocktail, especially in summer, is called a Petite Fleur. It’s a great aperitif, with a refreshing sharpness to prime the palate.  It’s also very easy to make:

1 Measure White Rum
1 Measure Triple Sec (or Cointreau)
1 Measure Grapefruit Juice (preferably fresh)

Shake the ingredients well together with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Decorate with a twist of orange peel.

Mentioning this cocktail also gives me the excuse to include the tune of the same name that was a big hit  originally for the great Sidney Bechet (and then later on over here in the UK for Monty Sunshine, erstwhile clarinettist of Chris Barber’s band). Here’s the wonderful original version, with Bechet on soprano saxophone, which is the perfect accompaniment to a spot of self-indulgence. Enjoy!